South Korean President Moon Jae-in's visit to China, which began on 13 December, was supposed to help defuse geopolitical tension between the two countries.
But tension within the visiting delegation rose yesterday when the South Korean journalists accompanying President Moon found themselves being kept away from the rest of the delegation by Chinese plainclothes security officials.
When two South Korean photo-journalists began to complain, they were punched and kicked by security agents. The journalists, who work for Hankookilbo and Maeil business, had to be hospitalized with blood on their face and, for one of them, a serious injury to the right eye. All this took place in public and was broadcasted in South Korea by public TV broadcaster KBS, causing an outcry there.
The South Korean government has requested an official apology, and the request has received the support of many organizations including RSF, the International Federation of Journalists, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, the Korea Press Photographer's Association and the Journalists Association of Korea.
Hostility encouraged by the authorities
"Journalists are full members of a visiting foreign delegation and the Chinese authorities are under the obligation to guarantee their safety, just as they do for all the other members of the delegation," said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF's East Asia bureau.
"But Chinese state propaganda openly portrays foreign journalists as enemies so it is no surprise that security agents felt hostility towards them and even felt they could act with impunity."
Harassment of foreign journalists is nothing new in China. After the clampdown on the national media and bloggers and the reinforcement of the "Great Firewall," foreign reporters are the last bastion of freely reported news and information in China.
Ironically, this incident comes just a week after Beijing hosted the first South-South Human Rights Forum, during which President Xi Jinping's government exalted an "alternative" human rights model that excludes media freedom and universal principles.
China is still very near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index – 176th out of 180 countries.